Homeschooling With Dyslexia: How We Teach Language Arts

by | Jul 16, 2014 | By The Subject | 30 comments

All dyslexics can learn to read, write and spell. Here is how we teach language arts to our dyslexic kids.

Teaching Language Arts to Students With Dyslexia

 

Thank you for joining me for this 5-day series on homeschooling with dyslexia.

Through the course of this week, we will be covering how our family teaches Language Arts, Math, Science, History and Fine Arts.  I’ll be sharing from our history of homeschooling 8 kids over the past 20 years.  Seven of our kids are dyslexic so we have more experience than we could ever possibly need (ha ha) but are happy to share.  What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

Since language arts are one of the main areas in which dyslexic kids struggle, this is an important post.  If you are new around here and need a little more information, you may want to click through to my links for previous posts that will be sprinkled throughout this post.   Otherwise, this post could quickly, or not so quickly, turn into a book.  <==That was a link.  🙂

Teaching the Dyslexic Child

In case you hadn’t already noticed, dyslexic kids learn differently.  Interestingly, about 80% of  dyslexics are right-brain dominant.  Right-brained learners literally utilize the right-hemisphere of the brain more than others, although all people use both hemispheres of their brains.  Scientists now understand that it is the left hemisphere of the brain that deals with language.

Essentially, the right brain deals with emotions, feelings, creativity, and intuition.  The left brain is linear, logical, and focuses on one thing at a time.  Most schools and textbooks are taught using a more left-brained dominant method.  Read the text, remember what you read, answer questions;  a heavily print oriented method.  Maybe you have been trying to homeschool your dyslexic kids with this approach and have experienced trouble like our family did.

Are your kids squirming in their seats 5 minutes into a lesson?  Are they acting out every word you read from their science book?  Do they doodle and draw while listening?  These movements and actions are actually helping your right-brained learner learn, activating areas of the brain that have to do with memory.

For more general information on how dyslexics learn, see these posts:

Homeschooling with Dyslexia:  How Dyslexics Learn

Learning Styles in the Homeschool

Teaching Language Arts to the Dyslexic Child

For the sake of this article we’ll say that Language Arts include Reading, Writing, Grammar and Spelling.

How we teach reading.

All dyslexics can learn to read – with the right methods.  You may have tried unsuccessfully to teach your dyslexic student to read with a traditional phonics program. The trouble with many of these programs is that the information is presented in a way that just does not stick.

The way that we get phonics information to stick is to make the instruction as simultaneously, multi-sensory as possible.  This approach to teaching is often referred to as the Orton-Gillingham approach.  Learn more about Orton-Gillingham here.  This means using as many of the senses, at the same time, as possible.  So we’re showing our child the letter ‘A’ and were teaching them that the sound this letter makes is ‘aaaaa’.  Tracing or coloring the letter while seeing and saying it is one example of using more than one sense at a time.

Another way to make phonics instruction stick is to teach each step, systematically with plenty of review.  Breaking up a phonics lesson into smaller chunks and sitting together several times throughout the day will help establish what scientists call ‘overlearning’ which is exactly that;  providing enough review so that the information is so familiar, it sticks in the brain.  How much review is needed will depend on each individual child.  Everyone is different.  Following the example of teaching the shape and sound of letter ‘A’ above, we may try posting an image of the letter ‘A’ in the living room and referring to it throughout the day, encouraging tracing, saying the name and sound etc. until it is mastered.  Utilize games and manipulatives or interactive apps for the iPad or other tablet.

While traditional phonics approaches may be systematic, they are rarely multi-sensory nor do they provide enough review to make the information stick.  It may be possible to work with your current phonics program and add more multi-sensory activities and review but, fortunately there are now curriculums that are designed with the right-brained, dyslexic learner in mind.

Our favorite reading programs for our dyslexic learners:

All About Reading begins at the beginning with laying a strong foundation in phonemic awareness, determined by scientists to be one of the strongest indicators of future reading ability.  Each level of the All About Reading Program is taught using multi-sensory, sequential and systematic instruction that dyslexic kids need.  I have found that some of our kids need even more practice than is provided by the program but it is easily modified and the customer service at All About Reading is the best.  This program is completely scripted meaning there is very little preparation on the part of the parent or teacher.

Reading Horizons is a company that has been providing research-based reading materials to schools since the 1970s.  They have recently created an excellent program that can be used at home.  There are two programs, one for kids ages 4-9 and another for the older struggling reader aged 10 and up. We particularly like the computerized program for older students.  It is no-nonsense and although it begins at the beginning, does not appear babyish, an issue of great importance for the older struggling reader.  Click here for my complete review of the Reading Horizons program.

Logic of English – A very thorough, easy-to-use reading program based on the Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading.  Foundations level for children ages 4-7 has many highly multi-sensory teaching ideas and includes instruction in cursive or manuscript (whichever you prefer).  Essentials level for children 8+ contains 3 levels so that instruction can be tailored to your child’s needs.  Can be used for several years in a row using the higher levels.  Includes study of Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes.  An excellent, well-rounded program.

How we teach spelling.

It is important to use the same simultaneously multi-sensory and systematic methods for teaching spelling as for teaching reading to a dyslexic learner.  Everything must simply be taught – nothing is gained automatically.  Dyslexics tend to spell logically and phonetically.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work with our complicated English language.  Dyslexics need to be taught each rule, systematically, with plenty of review.

Our favorite spelling programs for dyslexic learners:

We have tried multiple programs but have found that the All About Spelling program created by the makers of All About Reading is the best by far.  The program utilizes sight, sound and touch with a lightly scripted teacher’s manual so that you will always know what to teach and what to say.  All About Spelling can be completed in 15-20 minutes a day and has plenty of built in review.  Both All About Reading and All About Spelling have a 1 year unconditional guarantee and lifetime support.

How we teach writing.

We learned the hard way in our homeschool about workbooks and reading comprehension pages.  You know the ones with the fill in the blank pages?  First of all, my kids couldn’t read the questions and secondly, after I read the questions to them, most of the time they couldn’t spell their answers.  This is a recipe for disaster if there ever was one.  In our early years, much of this type of learning is done orally.  After reading or listening to a particular passage from English, History or Science, we have our kids narrate, or tell back, what they heard.  This method is common in the Charlotte Mason approach of education.  Beginning with a short selection and gradually narrating from longer passages, narration is the oral form of recounting what was learned and results in better retention.  Charlotte Mason believed that narration of good literature was the precursor to learning proper grammar structure.

We also utilize a large amount of copy-work.  Copy-work is part of the review and over-learning of language that is so necessary for dyslexic learners.  Seeing the word and writng the word correctly over and over again until the passage can be copied from dictation.

When our kids are older and more proficient at spelling, we begin teaching the essay writing process.  Often these kids have great ideas but struggle to get them on paper.  Graphic organizers are great for this.  There are simple paper web diagrams and now many apps and computer programs for mind mapping of ideas.  Once our older kids can get their ideas down and get them organized, they are set to write.  This takes plenty of practice as with any student.  Read this post for more information on teaching writing to kids with dyslexia.

Our favorite writing programs for dyslexic learners:

Write Shop

Fortuigence:  Essay Rock Star

Institute for Excellence in Writing

How we teach grammar.

I clearly remember losing sleep over the fact that my 2nd grader (our first born and homeschooled – poor thing) couldn’t remember the difference between a noun and a verb.  The following year, his grammar book arrived in the mail and lo and behold, what did I see?  They were still teaching nouns and verbs.  Most curricula review grammar concepts year by year, so breathe and relax!  We use a simple daily grammar lesson appropriately called Daily Grams to review age-appropriate grammar concepts a little bit, every day.  This method seems to work well with my right-brained learners who learn best with short, intense and frequent lessons.

Our favorite grammar programs for dyslexic learners:

Daily Grams  For daily grammar review.

Easy Grammar  Short lessons.  One concept at a time.

Winston Grammar An incremental, multi-sensory grammar program.

Language arts may be a difficult subject for the dyslexic student but enjoyment of excellent literature certainly is not.  There is no end to their enjoyment of great literature.  Read this post on the best sources for reasonable priced audiobooks.

Keeping Perspective

Kids with dyslexia need extra support and instruction in the early years until they master the concepts and principles of the language arts.  Remember that balancing remediation and accommodations is one of the most important parts of homeschooling a child with dyslexia.

All dyslexics can learn to read, write and spell. Here is how we teach language arts to our dyslexic kids

30 Comments

  1. Julie

    What types of things do you use for copywork? Thanks

    Reply
  2. laura

    I am a person who has dyslexia. I AM NOT A DYSLEXIC.
    What is your disability or impairment? Are you that?
    If you are going to write or advocate for persons with disabilities, i suggest that you get your language right.

    Reply
    • marianne

      I hear what you’re saying Laura. I intentionally say that my kids and husband (whom I love greatly) are dyslexic because I feel that saying that they ‘have’ dyslexia makes it sound like a disease – which it is not! Science shows that the dyslexic brain is wired differently and I believe that that is for a purpose. Dyslexic minds are wonderful with many unique strengths. There is far too much focus on the negative side of dyslexia. I hope this makes sense!

      Reply
      • Hannah

        Thank you for wording your response this way. This is how I feel about my son. He is exceptional, just like his dad, however they are wired differently and I don’t see it as a disability. I am left-brain dominate (almost failed art…which I didn’t think was possible:-) but the guys in my life are beautifully creative in ways I only dream of. If only we could acknowlege that creativity encompasses more than writing. What a beautiful revelation to learn that we all have different strengths that should be admired and utilized rather than picked apart and discarded because it doesn’t fit the mold of socially acceptable output. Again thank you!

        Reply
    • Jean

      Oh my goodness, Laura!
      Our society is turning so ‘politically correct’ (I say this in a negative view), no one can say anything, and I mean anything, without someone getting offended. Does it really matter, REALLY? , to say dyslexic /dyslexia? Oh my!! It is getting old.
      I have a son (and father, sister, and husband ) who are dyslexic as well so I am aware of feelings here. My heart aches for my son as we speak. For them, it doesn’t matter what it’s called but is a breath of fresh air knowing that they are not stupid as they once thought, but that they are more right-brain dominant. I found this article very helpful and applaud Merianne for loving her children so much that she stuck through with them, not easy. As she is obviously very knowledgeable about the subject and obviously very sensitive to her childrens’ feelings about it, I am sure she doesn’t need you correcting her. You may have found something on her site worth thanking her for.

      Reply
  3. Leanna

    Hey! We are almost finished with Level 4 of All About Reading. My Dyslexic 10 year old daughter is enjoying it and does extremely well with it. She is slowly reading but she’s reading! Where do we go from here with reading? We are just starting the 4th level of All About Spelling and i had already considered daily grams for her grammar next year. What do you suggest for Reading after Spring?

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Hi Leanna. I emailed AAR and asked what they recommend. Here is their reply:

      After completing AAR 4, our recommendations are:

      Read-read-read! Get the student hooked on an age-appropriate series. Subscribe to kid-friendly magazines, check out tons of books from the library, have her read instructions for games she wants to play. Encourage all types of reading material. If a novel seems too much of a stretch at this point, consider magazines, how-to topics, graphic novels, comic books, biographies of heroes, a joke collection. The more she reads, the more fluent she will become.

      Another fun idea–mom can select a humorous or captivating book at her reading ability and read the first chapter to her. Then stop reading. If she wants to find out what happens next, she’ll have to read it herself!

      Have the student keep reading aloud a little each day, and mom can use all of the strategies that her daughter has learned to help her decode unfamiliar words. Choose books that interest her student, both fiction and non-fiction. Mom can also choose books that correlate to other things they are studying, such as historical fiction or Usborne books that cover science topics.

      Make and use flashcards for review (this helps quite a bit!).

      The study of Greek and Latin roots can be helpful.

      Complete the All About Spelling program, which supports reading.

      Keep reading aloud to the student.

      For most kids, reading and being read to are the best ways to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary. If Mom needs or wants to provide extra vocabulary support: Marie recommends Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Isabel Beck (good for all ages).

      I hope this helps!

      If you think your daughter could use more review and guided practice, I highly recommend the Reading Horizons Elevate program.You can read my review here:http://homeschoolingwithdyslexia.com/help-older-struggling-reader/

      Reply
  4. Gale

    I love the soundness of this article. Dyslexics spell logically and English is not a logical language. I know several dyslexics who border genius. I can spell and make a fine secretary for them, but they are the movers and shakers. It is sad that most individuals with this problem have encountered educational bullies who can spell but are of little use in this world except to harm those whom they do not understand.

    Reply
    • Marianne

      I can relate to everything you are saying here Gale. My husband is brilliant but still struggles with the written word. We are a good team since I can spell and I can appreciate his strengths. He had a rough time growing up for sure!

      Reply
  5. Kerry Melka

    Thank so much for your website! I have 5 kiddos and one on the way, with at least 2 dyslexic that I can tell so far. I’m homeschooling my oldest (4th grade) for the 1st time this year. I hopped on your site to read about what you recommended for grammar and writing. He sees a great tutor, but some of what he is learning is just not sticking. I am checking out the daily grams that you mentioned. But, what do you use for your copy work? I feel like although not too exciting to do, the ability for my son to just keep writing without the dread of figuring out all the spelling, would be really helpful. So you have a text you use or do you just pick a passage?

    Reply
    • Erika

      We use writing without tears for my 7yr old who has dyslexia and he LOVES IT!

      Reply
  6. Michelle

    Hello! Thank you so much for all this information! What a blessing! Do you have any thoughts on vision therapy? I just had my daughter evaluated for VT this past week and the Dr. Recommends vision therapy. I just received the results of the testing in mail and from what I can see my daughters struggles all seem to be more of a dyslexia issue rather than a vision issue. Do you think VT can help or should I just keep on keeping on with All About Reading and other games that help kids with dyslexia?

    Reply
      • Nic

        My DD went for vision therapy for several months and it made a HUGE difference in her ability to read. She is still dyslexic and has difficulty with many things but within a few months of doing the exercises she began picking up books on her own and she was able to read without the intense frustration she had prior. Brings tears to my eyes when I think of the joy she felt when she said the words finally stopped moving on the page. You need to make sure the person you use is fully trained though. Many charlatans out there, but I don’t think New York University in NYC would do it if it were a scam. http://www.covd.org/page/vision_therapy

        Reply
  7. Stacie

    We use Daily Grams along with Easy Grammar for my 11yo and 9yo dyslexic children. We are looking at Fixit Grammar for next year to add editing skills. What is your thought on this?

    Reply
    • Stacie

      Also, we used RH on your recommendation and it has been fantastic for both students. I will be using AAR for #3 but I didn’t realize the first 2 had Dyslexia until a year or so ago. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I have needed a mentor on this subject.

      Reply
  8. Tammy

    My son Is 11 he still struggles with reading,we are using the Barton reading and spelling system. Have you heard anything about this program? Also,he has never done any writing or grammar. Should I wait until he can read better before starting these? Should we do more narration and copy work instead? Or should I do all three? And if so what age level of grammar should he start in?

    Reply
  9. Theresa

    My son has gone to a private school up to 7th grade ,he is 14 ,and now needing to be homeschooled. The academy he went to used the Orton-Gillingham methods and he has most everything in place.I believe it’s a fluency problem and an application issue. What do you recommend for 8th grade level grammar? Any other advice would be great! Thanks!

    Reply
  10. Tina

    I am trying to decided upon a writing program for my dyslexic 7th grader. I have been exploring Write Shop and Brave Writer with Julie Bogart. Our curriculum is mostly based off of the Charlotte Mason approach, and I know Brave Writer uses that approach.
    Do you have any suggestions for either of these curriculums, or which one may work better?
    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  11. Michelle

    what do you suggest as a good idea for copywork?

    Reply
  12. Paige

    What about high school? My son has dyslexia and every year it seems to show up in different ways. He struggles with formulas in algebra and I have not found a grammar program that will help him prepare for the ACT. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  13. JJ

    Thank you very much for this post! I am sitting here second, and third, and fourth guessing my decisions on language arts choices for my severely dyslexic daughter this year. However, reading this post has helped me sit back, relax and put things back in perspective. I know my daughter, I know her strengths and weaknesses, I choose her curriculum for this year for a reason. My curriculum choices are good for dyslexics. I need to simply relax, be consistent, work at our own pace and pray our way through the year. THANK YOU for helping me to get my feet back on the ground and a proper perspective as I head into the new year.

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Yay! I’m so glad the post was helpful JJ!!

      Reply
      • Nadine Allan

        Hi thank you for sharing this. 2 out of my 3 children are dyslexic, both with reading and spelling. I found All about reading and spelling hard work for them then came across Toe by Toe and their follow on Stride ahead life changing.
        I am wondering what resources you use for copywork as my son needs more of this now. Thanks…Nadine.

        Reply
  14. Helen

    Hi, we’re from the UK, would All about learning be ok to use for us or is it Americanised? Ie spellings….

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Hi Helen. I just emailed customer support at all about reading and will get back to you with what they say!

      Reply
      • Marianne

        Here is the reply from AAR Customer Service:

        “We find that teachers and parents adjust for the few spelling differences as they teach. One New Zealand mom told us, “In fact my daughter learnt those words easier because they became discussion points!”
        Here is a blog review from an Australian mom who completed all 7 levels with one of her children that you can share.

        We’ve received suggested alterations from a few different customers for those using British spelling/pronunciation. Sometimes Americans need to make slight alterations based on regional pronunciation as well, so we encourage parents and teachers to make changes that are helpful to their students. In the reading program, if the suggested pronunciation seems to vary from the way they speak, they can simply teach their pronunciation for the phonogram or word. Very few spelling words actually need to be changed. Some people will just omit them, and others might choose to teach that word with the British spelling.

        I’ll attach the suggested alterations that other British and Australian users have made. Feel free to share this as well. Hopefully this will be helpful to the family you are talking with.

        By the way, there is a retailer in the UK that carries our materials–that might save the family time and money on shipping: Conquest Books.”

        Reply
  15. Christine

    Do you suggest using the placement test for Daily Grams/Easy Grammar? I have a 9th grader with severe dyslexia. He is about to graduate from his dyslexia therapy, but, of course, there are still spelling issues. I’m wondering if choosing a level would be based more on remediation or accommodation?

    Reply
  16. Jenny

    Thank you for the reviews! It’s my first year homeschooling as I feel like my child with dyslexia could use more individual work tailored to her needs. She’s 9 years old (would be going into Grade 5). I’m having a hard time choosing between Logic of English Essentials and All About Reading/Spelling. Do you have a favorite program out of those two? Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
    • Marianne

      I feel like AAR/AAS is easier to use but LOE is a stronger program. They are both good programs though so there is no wrong choice!

      Reply

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